Attorney General, Consumer Protection commissioner, warn of “charity” drives over the phone that mostly benefit the fundraisers

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You know what the phone calls are like. Someone dials you during dinner asking for contributions for local police and fire departments. Do you know that often the groups get a fraction of the amount donated? A small fraction, at that. And it’s getting toward that donation season. The Blogster always asks the phoners what percentage of their take actually makes it to the charity.

Here’s the release from Attorney General George Jepsen and Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein, who are warning people to find out more information from people soliciting over the phone for charities.

“Telephone and mail solicitations for legitimate charities – and scammers — typically increase during the holiday season and the Attorney General and Commissioner said residents should know where their money is going before making a telephone or online donation.

News reports last month focused on one telemarketing company, InfoCision Management, which is used by more than 30 non-profit organizations to solicit donations. In some cases, the company was keeping nearly 80 percent of the donations without telling the donors.

“Connecticut residents are generous people, but don’t be pressured into giving a donation over the phone. Make sure you know who is calling, what charity they represent and how much of the donation will go to the charity. Ask for written information before making a gift. When in doubt, hang up and get more information,” Attorney General Jepsen said.

Commissioner Rubenstein said that information is available on the state Department of Consumer Protection website because charities that solicit money in Connecticut must first register with the department. Complaints may also be registered there.

“Our website,  at https://www.elicense.ct.gov, not only provides charity registration information online, but also displays any active solicitation campaign notices for a registered charity, the paid solicitor they hired and the minimum percentage that is guaranteed to go to that charity,” Rubenstein said. “This information is intended to help donors make wise choices when choosing a charity to support.”

Attorney General Jepsen and Commissioner Rubenstein are partnering to lead a national effort that as early as next year may make information easily accessible about charity solicitations nationwide.

The Singlepoint website is designed to be a single point of contact for nonprofits and professional fundraisers seeking to register their solicitation campaigns, and for consumers looking for more information about charities seeking donations. Currently 40 states register charities.

Connecticut will be one of eight states participating in a three-year pilot of the website, which is expected to launch late next year or in early 2014. Joining Connecticut will be Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri and New Hampshire.

The website is a joint project of the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO), the Urban Institute and the Charities Regulation and Oversight Project of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School.

NASCO is a national coalition of all state regulators involved in registration and enforcement of charities and protection of charitable assets, including Attorneys General from all states, and Secretaries of State or Commissioners of state agencies that manage registration functions in the 18 states, including Connecticut, where the Attorney General does not have that responsibility.

Assisting the Attorney General and Commissioner Rubenstein on the Singlepoint website issue are Assistant Attorney General Karen Gano, Special Litigation, and Michael Elliott, the Department of Consumer Protection’s director of licensing.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General and Commissioner said there are steps Connecticut residents can take to help protect themselves from scammers and from being misled by professional fundraisers.

  • Ask who is calling. Is the caller a representative of the charity or a professional solicitor? Professional solicitors must identify themselves, and provide information about the charity, including how much of the donation will benefit the charity.  Giving directly to the charity, rather than through paid solicitors, ensures the organization gets the most benefit from your donation.
  • Ask for written information about the charity or the donations being sought. Look them up on the Internet and check with DCP to make sure they are registered. If not, don’t contribute.
  • Donate to recognized charities with a history, and beware of those with names similar to well-known organizations.
  • Don’t give or send cash, and don’t be pressured to provide bank card, credit card or other personally identifiable information over the telephone. Tell callers you need to check out the request before you contribute.
  • Be wary if prizes are offered for donations.
  • Don’t be afraid to hang up, or to ask the solicitor not to call again. If approached in person, ask for identification and written information.

More information is available on the Federal Trade Commission website: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/charityfraud; at Charity Navigator, http://www.charitynavigator.org and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at http://www.bbb.org/us/charity.”

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